Building bonds via theatre

dramatics

Building bonds via theatre

Excited children line up as they wait for the priest to finish the puja. The adults stand on the sidelines watching with curiosity and amusement, for inside the brightly decorated theru (chariot) sits the deity — a huge jackfruit! This is the highlight of the ‘Santhe Aata’, a unique event in the theatre workshops conducted by Sanchari Theatre for children.

Sanchari Theatre was started by N Mangala, Rangayana Raghu and Gajanana T Nayka in 2004. In 12 years of its existence, Sanchari Theatre has managed to carve out a special niche for itself in Kannada theatre with its unique experiments.

Entering the world of theatre through Samudaya, Mangala received a firm grounding in theatre in Rangayana, Mysuru, under the tutelage of B V Karanth. She has also worked with various theatre groups as an actor, director and theatre designer. Gajanana is the music director for all Sanchari’s plays.

Recalling her foray into children’s theatre, Mangala says, “My first experience working with children was in Chinnara Mela, Rangayana’s summer camp for children. Subsequently, I designed costumes for many of Prema Karanth’s plays. Later, I also began assisting her in bringing her ideas to life. As long as she was alive, the idea of starting a parallel platform for children’s theatre had not even occurred to me, for she was a giant in the field of Kannada children’s theatre. However, after her demise, I wanted to do more in children’s theatre to keep her legacy alive.”

Creative activities
Having worked in children’s theatre for nearly two decades, Mangala, in 2012,
conceptualised theatre workshops for children in memory of her teachers and mentors, B V Karanth and Prema Karanth. Sanchari conducts a four-month long weekend workshop for children and a camp during summer. The workshops feature theatrical exercises, song, dance, arts and crafts, mask making, pottery, mime and a variety of creative activities. At the end of the camp, the children perform a play.

Each batch of children she works with brings along a different experience,
Mangala says. “I allow children themselves to decide what should be the structure of the workshop and what activities should be scheduled. Children are influenced by the world around them. For instance, when asked to improvise a situation given a rope and chair, a child from a rural area might tie the rope to a chair, which is the cow in his or her imagination, and drag it along to the pasture, for the child is closer to nature. Given the same props, a child from a city would envision the chair as a car seat and use the rope as a seat belt, for the child sees more man-made objects in her or his surroundings. It is fascinating to see how varied children’s imagination can be,” she explains.

It is certainly a challenge working with children from different backgrounds. Some of them initially have inhibitions about getting their clothes dirty or interacting with other children, explains Mangala. “We ensure that children leave behind their hesitation and interact with others. They should get comfortable working, sharing and playing with kids of varied backgrounds, lifestyles and habits. We want to do away with the idea of exclusivity. Many children who are initially hesitant, change completely by the time they leave and wish to come back the next year,” says Gajanana.

Many urban parents come to her with the concern that their children spend too much time indoors with gadgets. They wish their children could speak better Kannada or learn more about our culture. “Some parents have come to us with lofty expectations that we will groom their children to take part in reality shows. But, I always make it clear to the parents that we do not teach the children anything. We just motivate them to engage and interact with the world around them. It is up to each child to take back what it can from the experience,” Mangala clarifies.

This summer, Sanchari conducted a residential camp at Janapada Loka in Ramanagaram. “Apart from the usual activities that they engage in, we wanted the children to have a taste of rural life. The theme of this year’s residential camp was rural and folk culture. The children were introduced to various folk art forms, sericulture, pottery and rural traditions that are on the decline. The last day featured the ‘Santhe Aata’, a fair, which is most common in rural areas. The children managed the entire fair, putting up stalls and selling small items. This way, they learnt about how local markets work,” says Gajanana.

Sanchari Theatre’s children’s workshops certainly do have the backing of the parents. Says Shubha Urs, whose son is a regular at the camps, “My son was hyperactive and would not sit still for a moment. After he started attending the camps, he has learnt to be patient and channelise his energy productively. The Sanchari experience has given him greater confidence, increased his attention and improved his Kannada diction and pronunciation. The best thing about the Sanchari team is that they keep in touch with the children and parents even after the camps are over. Ask my son and he will tell you, Sanchari Theatre is his second home.”
The Sanchari team aims at encouraging children to interact with the world by
celebrating the diversity of the society we live in. To know more about the initiative and their work, visit www.sanchaaritheatru.wordpress.com.

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